Omerta: The Mafia’s ‘Code of Silence,’ punishable by death, see why and where
Omerta otherwise known as “Code of Silence” evolved in Southern Italy. Centuries ago, Southern Italy came under terrible oppression and tyranny from the state and colonialists. It probably had its origin in about 16th century during a Spanish colonization of the region. Long period of oppression instigated people to begin to band themselves together to throw off the heavy yoke of oppression via vendetta. The groups formed what became Mafia groups, which fought these purveyors of oppression. The groups soon developed into rival gangs committing heinous crimes of all shades.
Omerta thus developed, which “places importance on silence in the face of questioning by authorities or outsiders; non-cooperation with authorities, the government, or outsiders, especially during criminal investigations; and willfully ignoring and generally avoiding interference with the illegal activities of others (i.e. not contacting law enforcement or the authorities when one is aware of, witness to, or even the victim of certain crimes).”
Informers, those who witnessed crimes being committed and cooperated with the authorities or law enforcement agents by informing them, are targeted for elimination. Such informers are described as “rats” or “snitches.”
The Mafia put premium on omerta, which operates on the principle of not seeking aid from legally constituted authorities to settle personal grievances. It goes that if you are wronged you are not to seek justice from the state; you rather are to avenge yourself or seek a patron to exact vengeance on your behalf. So, omerta implies “the categorical prohibition of cooperation with state authorities or reliance on its services, even when one has been victim of a crime.”
Omerta thus forbids a person poking his nose in the affairs of others and to resist informing the authorities of any crime no matter how grievous. The best is to take revenge by oneself (if one is the victim) – vendetta. Furthermore, under omerta, if you are convicted of a crime which you had not committed because you couldn’t open up on the real culprit, you are expected to serve the terms with equanimity. Any violation of this stringent culture is punishable by quick death.
Omerta means loyalty and solidarity taken to the extreme in confrontation with authority. It considers it disloyal to divulge information on crime to the authorities, whose oppression led to the evolvement of the code and as a result many crimes involving the Mafia aren’t solved.
Mafia culture is very strong in Sicily, Southern Italy and the code is probably a response to one of its proverbs on fear, which says, Cu e surdu, orbu e taci, campa cent’anni ’mpaci (“He who is deaf, blind and silent will live a hundred years in peace”). So, do not hear, do not see and do not tell!
Further to that, the code is described as follows: “Whoever appeals to the law against his fellow man is either a fool or a coward. Whoever cannot take care of himself without police protection is both. It is as cowardly to betray an offender to justice, even though his offences be against yourself, as it is not to avenge an injury by violence. It is dastardly and contemptible in a wounded man to betray the name of his assailant, because if he recovers, he must naturally expect to take vengeance himself.”
A legend has it that a wounded man once told his assailant: “If I live, I’ll kill you. If I die, I forgive you.” That is the spirit underlining the Omerta.
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Sources: Wikipedia & Mario Puzo’s novels – The Sicilian and The Last Don.